Using Art to Bring Out the Best in Senior Living
If there is one thing residents at Classic Residence in Chevy Chase, a Vi Community, are not doing, it is sitting still. At Classic Residence, an older adult rental community, vibrant lifestyles flourish, especially in Dick Swartz’s art class. Here, several individuals with varying art backgrounds gather to create different works and form lasting friendships. “This is the best group; they’re so engaged and excited,” said Dick. “Everyone here is doing something different.”
A professional artist, who has led art classes at Classic Residence since 1999, Dick takes pride in sharing his techniques with his class. From designing murals to composing clay sculptures and oil paintings he watches as his students not only benefit from exploring their artistic abilities, but also their growing camaraderie. In fact, during his time teaching he has seen a pair of classmates fall in love, one of whom had Parkinson’s disease, yet continued to create beautiful pieces. “I think there’s healing in art, not only is it good for the brain but for all kinds of things,” he said. “The result is not so much important as they come together to paint and share.”
Among those individuals who regularly come together are Margaret Smith, Phyllis Slesinger and Isaac ‘Ike’ Diamond, each of whom has been enjoying an amenity-filled lifestyle at Classic Residence.
A Salt Lake City native, Margaret Smith graduated from the University of Utah, and went on to Northwestern University for graduate work. While at Northwestern she met a professor whom she later married. After moving around New England for about ten years, her family eventually settled in Michigan.
Following her husband’s passing, Margaret lived alone until her children convinced her to move to an apartment in the Washington, D.C. area. She soon realized, however, that she wanted a home that would coincide with her lifestyle and needs.
With scenic views and decor resembling that of a traditional Georgetown mansion, Classic Residence seemed the perfect fit. Margaret can remain independent having peace of mind that if assisted living services are needed, they are available right in the building. “I looked at the different retirement communities, and this was far superior to anything I had seen,” she said. “It’s a very good place.”
Margaret had no problem adjusting to life at the community as she immediately sought opportunities to get involved. Always having an interest in art, but never having the time to fully pursue it, she was intrigued to find a class among the extensive list of available activities. “I joined the art class four years ago. Dick is such a good instructor that I knew immediately I wanted to continue,” she said. Margaret has served on the Residents’ Council and was appointed Chairman of the Welcoming Committee, an organization she highly credits for helping residents assimilate in the community. “There are so many activities and I encourage new residents to join some, just to sample them if nothing else,” she said. “My mother’s saying was ‘Do something new every year’ and I think I have.”
Many of her peers are taking her advice as Dick’s class has expanded tremendously. This, however, comes as no surprise to Phyllis Slesinger. “He is the best teacher I’ve ever had; he encourages you and has really brought out a lot of things I didn’t know I could do,” she said.
Phyllis was born, raised and married in Buffalo, NY. When her husband passed away, she moved to Florida for 26 years and traveled with her sister. “We went all over on cruises and trips to Europe and have wonderful memories,” she said. With her sister’s passing, Phyllis was encouraged by her son to move near him in Chevy Chase. “It was a difficult decision because I like my independence, but I’ve been very happy here because I’ve been kept so busy,” she said.
Phyllis continues her longtime hobbies of needlework and gardening. She had previously painted, but continues to be amazed at her achievements in the art class. Like Margaret, she participates in other activities at Classic Residence, which includes
volunteering to arrange flowers every Wednesday. “You have to learn to join in. If you just sit in your apartment, you’re not going to enjoy it,” she said. “If you get out, you meet all these different people, and everybody here is so friendly and incredible.” For Phyllis, this extends from the accommodating staff at the community to the unique residents she interacts with daily.
This is something Ike Diamond certainly agreed with, saying, “A lot of the people here are ex-college professors, doctors, physicists and just very interesting people to have dinner with and discuss your backgrounds.” Raised in New York, Ike went
to Brooklyn College, but decided to move to Washington, D.C. in 1941 to work for a newspaper. A month after getting married, he went into the Navy. “It was an education for me and I saw quite a bit of action,” he said. Upon his return to the District, he finished his education at George Washington University and worked in the advertising industry for 50 years before retiring with his wife to Florida.
While visiting their daughter, the couple drove past Classic Residence and decided to take a tour. Extremely pleased with the community, Ike’s wife expressed how ideal it would be to return to their hometown and enjoy a maintenance-free lifestyle in a supportive environment. Unfortunately shortly after their visit, she became ill and passed away, but Ike eventually decided to follow through with their plans and moved to the community. “They make a pretty good ef
fort to get you acclimated quickly here,” he said. “It’s been very comforting to me and I’m glad I made the decision.”
Ike has served on the Building and Grounds Committee working with building managers and engineers to assist in the upkeep of the community. This is just one of the many ways residents work with the staff in all aspects of life at Classic Residence. “We’ve been complimented on how well we’re surveying the necessities of a lifestyle we’d all like to have,” he said. Ike was also elected to the Residents’ Council and is part of the Food and Dining Committee. Feeling he had some talent that he never exercised, he decided to join the art class. “Sure enough, Dick gave me some very fundamental things to do and kept moving me up,” he said. “In one year, I became an artist.”
The community continually supports the residents by providing transportation for visits t
o sites featuring Dick’s murals. Other daytrips take advantage of the numerous cultural opportunities in the Washington, D.C. areas.
Whether it is in the Art Studio, Billiard Room, Indoor Pool and Fitness Center or along the outdoor
walking paths, individuals at the community enjoy abundant activities and numerous opportunities for socialization. And just as Dick’s students credit him for bringing out the best in them, the residents of Classic Residence in Chevy Chase can certainly say they have found a community that does the same.